Major Briggs

“GOD DAMNIT!” I screamed out loud as I fell in the mud. I hate the mud. I hate the wet, the cold, the unclean, and the uncivilized. As a general rule I hate uninhabited wilderness. Above everything else, though, I hate the mud. Yet there I was, covered head to toe in muck. I was soaked to the bone. I was weary, I was tired, my muscles ached, and these weren’t even the worst of my problems.

Before I get into the nitty-gritty that brought me to that unpleasant situation allow me to introduce myself. I am a man and my name is Major Briggs. Yes Major is my actual name. My great-grandfather was Spanish, his name was Majoure. His name was pronounced Mah-hoo-er. My name is the English homage to him, however butchered it may be. I am myself English. I grew up in a small rural community called Elmswell in Suffolk. I am the oldest of four children. I am currently twenty-four years old. My parents are William and Lamya. My three younger siblings are Marry, Robert, and little Mariah. They are seventeen, ten, and eight respectively.

My father is a cobbler, quite a good one at that. Have you ever heard the adage “the cobbler’s children have no shoes?” Well this couldn’t be further from the truth in our case. My father is more of an artisan than the title “cobbler” might commonly denote. The footwear he creates is lavish and beautiful. His works are sought after by even the most powerful and wealthy nobility in England. He uses only the finest leathers, dyes, and nails in his footwear. He also has a secret ingredient of sorts that he puts in the soul. A friend of his from France named Fredrick de La Condamine (father of Charles Marie de La Condamine who later became known as the pioneer of this substance) would bring this substance to my father. He charged a hefty sum for this “mystical” substance. It was worth it though; the wonders it worked for the comfort of the feet was astounding, and part of the reason my father’s shoes were so desired. He hid a generous layer of this substance, which he and Condamine called “Elastamer,” between the hard leather bottom of the shoe and the soft leather pallet on which the foot rested. This made the soul of his shoes a rather thick one and a half inches and made it feel like you were walking on a cloud.

My father trained me in how to make shoes; he left nothing out save the mysterious origin of Elastamer. I am fairly proficient in crafting footwear and am able to repair most shoes. However, I am still the student, my father is the master. Alas, making shoes is no longer my profession, nor do I suppose it ever again will be. Once you have felt the Aether there can be nothing else. Hardening, dying, and stretching leather even for the finest of cobblers becomes insignificant when you have seen fire awaken on the ground; produced by nothing more than your will.

I began to study Aetheric Magic from books. From my earliest childhood memories I can remember my father taking me with him to London to sell his shoes. Usually he goes about four times a year. When in London he would always let me go into a shop and he would buy me one thing, never anything too large or expensive, but he could afford to buy me most anything I would want. In my youth I would always want some toy. I particularly remember a wooden rocking horse named Andy which is still in my house and has been used by my younger siblings. However, once I turned about fifteen I started wanting something else; books. Every single trip to London since then I wanted to go to the book store. These books were a special treat as most of the literature in Elmswell was not very enlightening; lots of dry reading about uninteresting, far too familiar subjects. The only thought provoking reading available was of religious nature, these books I read many times. And so, my books from London were an incredible joy to have. I started out with books on philosophy. I quickly moved onto the sciences and once I did I never looked back. I have read the entire works of Galileo, Isaac Newton, and other notable scientists over and over again. Aetheric Magic was becoming my passion.

By the time I was nineteen I could already begin to cast the simplest of cantrips. I would stand in waist deep water practicing my spells. I didn’t dare go near any foliage lest I light it on fire and burn half the woods and all the buildings nestled within them. During this time I was growing farther apart from my family. It was expected of me to continue helping my father with is craft but I was endeavoring to find more and more time to spend with my books, practicing my primitive Aetheric manipulations. I often worked as hard as I could to finish what needed to be done for my father, mostly preparing the leathers. I’d eat quickly and clean up quickly. Then I’d take a bag overflowing with my, now good sized, collection of books and go to my favorite spot at the river.

I forsook all of my peers. By the time I was eighteen most of my friends were getting married and either moving off or starting their own practices in Elmswell with which they would support their burgeoning families. This never interested me. There were never even any girls around that I fancied. In general I felt that most of the women around, and indeed most of my friends too, were bellow me. About the time I started experimenting with Aetheric Magic most of my friendships began to dissolve. Our interests were just too different. I would have loved someone to work with on this new art of Aetheric manipulation. If I’d have had someone who also read the books I read and practiced what I practiced we could have worked together and probably been much better wizards for it. Alas, none of my friends were interested in this sort of thing and thus I studied alone.
As I mentioned earlier, I am no stranger to religious literature. My family, along with most of my community, is Anabaptist. I attend church regularly and generally consider myself a good Christian. In fact it was very near my favorite spot at the river where I was baptized when I was sixteen; I had finally understood what it meant to accept Jesus as my savior and this meant that I was ready to be baptized. How ironic that this is where all my sins began and the horrible predicament I was placed in was brought about.

One Sunday I was at my spot in the river. I love Sunday’s because as soon as church is over I get to spend all day reading and practicing my magic. I was working on a new type of spell. I had been working with elemental control for several years, as I was now twenty. The sole element I had been working with had been fire. On this day, however, I was working with something new to me; ice. I was facing upstream, casting lances of ice at the water. It would freeze a small portion of the surface water and I’d watch with amazement as the miniature icebergs floated past my legs. I was looking upstream when I saw something large coming towards me along the river. I watched as it approached, moving with the speed of the current. It wasn’t long before I realized that it was a small raft with a single individual standing atop holding a long stick. As it got closer I realized there were some boxes on the raft as well. As the raft approached the person, who looked like a young man about my age, atop it waved at me and began using the long stick to steer himself towards the bank. Only about ten yards away from me he grounded the raft delicately along the shore.

“Hello there” he said. I stood dumbfounded. I’m sure my jaw was almost dragging in the water that lapped at my waist. The boatman was shirtless. He was tall; he had to have been over six feet. He had a very toned and darkly tanned body. His muscles glistened with sweat as the summer sun beat upon his hairless body. The hair on his head was the color of straw and hung messily down to his eyes. He had light blue eyes and big, kindly smile. The only clothing we wore was a pair of tight blue shorts. Once my eyes noticed a large bump underneath them I couldn’t look away from it and I had no idea why. In contrast, I am of average height. I am not a large man; wispy is a good word to describe me. I’m dark haired, pail, and frail. I was wearing a pair of my coverall work clothes I used when working with leather and was standing in water up to my waist, holding a book by Newton in my left hand.

“Hello?” he said again with a slight chuckle in his voice as he stepped off his raft. “Hi” I managed to squeak out. My voice hadn’t cracked in years yet it chose now to embarrass me. I began to wade my way over to the bank to meet him. “I’m Pat” he said as we approached each other. “Major” I said. His face took on a quizzical look. “What?” he asked. Stuttering I blurted “Major, my name is Major. Major Briggs.” “Oh, I see. Interesting name, I like it.” He said with a smile. His voice was young and smooth, moderately pitched. It wasn’t too high or too low. I’ve always thought my voice is too nasally. My voice isn’t very pretty or nice to hear, I don’t much like the sound of it at all.

“So what were you doing standing in the middle of the river? I don’t see a line and pole.” “I’m uh, studying” I replied, indicating towards my book. “You can read!?” he said astounded. I never thought about it, but I guess my father is pretty well educated. I didn’t think that there were many people in England who couldn’t read but I guess, in truth, there were. “Yea, I uh, I read all the time actually.” “Back in my town upriver there’s only a couple people who are learned in the way of words. It’s an honor to meet you Major Briggs.” An honor to meet me? Compared to him I was nothing. “No, the honor is all mine” I meekly stammered out, casting my eyes toward the ground. “Oh I’m just a boatman. Taking some wares down south for sale.” “Not many raftsman go by here. Water isn’t very deep” I said, I’d definitely have remembered him passing by in the past. “Well that’s why I’m hoping to make some money. Maybe I’ll be the only one to come down this far. If that be the case, everyone will ship with me” he said with a hopeful smirk. “Brilliant” I said. I was trying my hardest to look at his face. It was like my eyes had become strong magnets and his body were steel. “Well we’ll see how brilliant it is” he said. “I’m just hopin’ to make enough to get by.”

“So what were ya readin’?” he asked. “Newton, about Aetheric Magic” I answered. His eyes widened. “Are you a wizard? Do you cast spells?” he asked with amazement. I felt my face flush. “No, no, I’m no wizard. Well……I can cast a few spells I guess.” “Then that makes you more of a wizard than anyone I’ve ever met!” he said enthusiastically. “Oh please Mr. Briggs, show me some magic. I’ve never seen any magic.” He looked and sounded like a child who’d just walked into a candy store. “Well alright.” I said with pride as I straightened myself up. “Ever seen ice in the summer?” With that I spoke a few familiar words and made my familiar gestures, this time with a little more flamboyance than usual in an attempt to heighten my onlooker’s interest. A blue bolt of ice flew swiftly through the air from my finger and splashed into the river. As it did so it created a jagged edged chunk of ice and it floated down stream past us. Now it was his turn to have a jaw hit the ground. As the ice floated out of view he turned and just stared at me. I stared back, this time I let my eyes wander to where they wished. For a few minutes we just stood there staring at each other. I had a sly grin on my face, so proud that I had something this incredible man found as fascinating as I found him. “Mr. Briggs” he said, finally breaking the silence. “I should continue on my way to my destination, I don’t want to be late for my business.” He didn’t move though, he continued staring at me. “If you want your shipping venture to succeed I suspect you ought to go” I said. My mind was racing trying to think of something to say that could bring him back on his trip back home but he said it for me. “I’d very much like to meet with you again Mr. Briggs, for a much greater length of time.” I nearly jumped out of my skin with excitement but I did my best to keep my calm. “I’m here, exactly here every day after dinner. On Sundays, like today, I’m here all day once church is done.”

“On my way back up stream I will meet you then” he said. Again he lingered. Finally he moved towards his raft. “Farewell for now Major Briggs, it was truly a pleasure to make your acquaintance.” “You too” I replied as he shoved off from the bank. “Wait!” I called. “What was your name again?” I’d completely forgotten what he had introduced himself as. “Patroclus Gildrath” he called out to me. “But everyone just called me Pat.” We waved goodbye to each other. I’ve never again forgotten the name Patroclus Gildrath.

The next few days my work and my studies suffered. My mind was elsewhere. All I could think about was Pat. I went to my spot everyday as quickly as I could waiting for him to come floating back up the stream. Three days past and I had not yet seen him. I couldn’t figure out why he had become so important to me. I thought about him constantly. I even dreamt about him. I had no idea why I was so distracted. On the fourth day after I had met Pat my father pulled me aside after dinner. “Son, come speak with me” he said. “Yes father” I complied. I was horribly anxious to get to my spot at the river but when my father wanted to talk then there was no discussion, we were going to talk. “Major, today I had to re-rack the leather to harden that you’d done yesterday. The last couple days your dyes have been uneven. I have not the time to afford mistakes like this. Our clients have been given delivery dates which we must now meet. Have you an explanation?” I looked at him ashamedly. I didn’t have an explanation. I didn’t know why I was so distracted. “No sir” I said quite honestly. “As I thought” he responded coldly. Then he did something I had not expected at all. His frown slowly began to curl up. Up and up the sides of his mouth crept until he was bearing a full blown grin. Soon that grin tuned into chuckling. As he looked upon my confused face the chuckling became laughter, loud and hard. His eyes began watering from it all and he scooped me up into a rough hug, my father is a fair bit larger than I and his squeeze pressed the air out of my lungs.

“I’m so happy for you, son!” he exclaimed. “Your heart has finally been pierced by the eyes of another. You’re in love my boy!” LOVE!? I thought to myself. I’m not in love. The person I’m distracted by is a man. How could I be in love with………oh no, God help me. Before I could finish my thoughts my father released me from his grip. “So” he said peering down into my eyes and placing his hands on my shoulders. “Who is she?” I looked up at him, tears welling in my eyes. “Pat” I answered solemnly.

I sat at the base of a tree by the river. After my conversation with my father I needed to get out and be alone more than ever. I waited at my usual spot but now I wasn’t so sure I wanted Pat to arrive. I hadn’t even brought my books out with me, I just needed to sit and think. I sat with my back rested against one of the giant Elms which gave our area its’ name. The sun was beginning to set as I heard the footsteps of something coming up the bank of the river from downstream. It sounded like a slow trodden horse. I wiped the tears from my eyes that had been slowly, but steadily flowing since I’d sat down at the tree. I leaned over enough to see what was coming. It was a donkey. It had a harness on it. Tied to the harness was a rope that connected to a small raft in the stream. Atop the raft was Pat, guiding and pushing it along with his long pole. I leaned back against the tree and prepared myself.

As he past me in the growing dim I could see him looking around but he didn’t see me. I was hidden in the shadows. My mind and heart warred with each other. If I wanted I could just let him go. I could never return to the spot. However it was only about a mile from my house and I doubt he’d be hard pressed to find the residence of Major Briggs if he asked anyone around. “Pat” I called. My voice was scratchy and strained, worn from the crying and sore from the lump in my throat. “Ah, Major Briggs! I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to come across you. I’d have been much disappointed to miss the greatest wizard of the area.” I couldn’t even crack a smile at his exuberance. I had to tell him that I could never see him again. I’m a good Anabaptist, and I mustn’t succumb to the feelings raging inside of me. Not that it mattered. If Pat managed to get out of me why I couldn’t see him anymore (which he probably would because if he asked I’d melt and tell him anything he wanted to know) he’d probably punch me in the face and never look back. I’d only beg him not to tell anyone. Heathen’s are forced out of the community…..or worse.

“I’m here” I said as I stood up. By now he was beaching his vessel on the bank. He jumped off. “Be with you in a tick” he said. He went over and tied up his burro and raft. “How’s it going?” he inquired. I’m glad it was getting dark so he couldn’t see my tear stained face. “Mr. Gildrath, there’s something…” “Call me Pat, everyone does” he interrupted me. “Pat” I continued. “I…” I broke off. I breathed deeply and slowly, trying to gather my thoughts and force the words I didn’t want to say out of my mouth. “What’s wrong Major? You sound distressed” Pat said. He walked closer to me and placed his strong hand lightly on my shoulder. My knees wobbled at the ecstasy of his touch. “I am…I’m ah…I’ve been. I’ve been having…impure thoughts” I finally managed to say. Pat didn’t seem fazed. His eyebrow lifted quizzically and his voice lowered. “What kind of impure thoughts?” he questioned. “Impure thoughts about…about…about you.” I hadn’t managed to take a breath before Pat grabbed me and pulled me into him with his strong arms. He planted his lips on mine and embraced me in an awkwardly passionate kiss.

I must have blacked out. I don’t know if it was because I forgot to breath or because my emotions had just overloaded my brain, but the next thing I knew I was lying on the ground; Pat holding my left hand in his an my head in his right hand. “There we go” he cooed as I came around. “Good thing I had a good grip on you or you might have smacked your head pretty good.” My eyes began to clear. “Did what I think just happen actually…happen?” I asked dazedly. “What do you think just happened” he asked. “I think you just kissed me” I said. I couldn’t believe the words I’d just said. “Yes Major, that is exactly what just happened.” “Would you please” I said with a gulp “make it happen again?” Patroclus Gildrath obliged me. I thought that once I’d tasted the Aether there could never be anything else I would desire. I was wrong.

We met in secret. My family was used to me going out and being by myself as I read and practiced, no questions were asked. That summer and fall we saw each other about twice a week. At first we just talked and kissed. As time progressed our kissing grew more intense. We experimented with each other. One night, I shall always treasure this night, we had carnal knowledge of each other. Long before this had happened I’d decided that I was in love with Pat and nothing would change that. I also decided that, because of this, one of two things must be true. Either the bible was wrong, and these kinds of relationships were perfectly natural; I was sure I felt more love for Pat than my parents ever felt for each other. Or that when I died I was going to hell. Whichever the case I would not be dissuaded from Pat by my conscience. I worked hard not to let my work with my father arouse any suspicion. I worked harder than ever but as a consequence my studies and practicing fell by the wayside; forgotten in the wake of Patroclus.

It felt like far too short a time before the river began to freeze. No longer would Pat be coming down the river. “Let’s move to London” Pat urged. “We can be anonymous there. We can live together and as far as anyone will know we can just say we’re brothers.” I looked at Pat with a smile on my face. We both burst out laughing at the idea of anyone believing we could possibly be brothers. “I have money saved” he continued. “You can finally ask your father for the wages you’re due from all these years. For God’s sake he should owe you a fortune by now. We could start our own business. I can find a shipping job or you could even teach me to make shoes.” The idea was very tempting. “Give me a few days to think about it. I’m not sure yet” I said. “I won’t be back in a few days. The water’s freezing up; I won’t make it back again. Come with me now. Stay with me in my house for a bit while we decide what we’re going to do. I don’t want to be without you.” I thought for a minute about what I wanted to say. “You are” I began “the most amazing thing that has ever happened to me. I want to be with you too, I want to see you every day and never be apart. I just need to come up with something to tell my father. Can you come back here on foot in three days, then we can head to your place or to London? Whatever you want.” “And so it shall be” Pat said. I’ll see you here in three days, be ready to leave for a long time.” He smiled and we said goodbye as he headed back upriver.

Before dinner was over the next night I made an announcement to the whole family. “Everyone, there’s something I’d like to tell you.” They looked anxiously at me; it was rare that I made any kind of announcement. “I’m going to move to London and start my own cobbler store.” They all burst out in congratulations and cheers. “Son I’ve been waiting for you to finally get away from your old man and start something of your own. You know you’ve been invaluable around here. This family wouldn’t be what it is without you. Wait here.” My father left the room, my mother, brother, and sisters continued their praise of me. My mother began to cry. “Close your eyes” my father said from out of the room. I did so. “Hold out your hands” he said, now standing right in front of me. I held out my hands. He placed in them something that felt very familiar. “Open your eyes son” he said. There in my hands were the most beautiful boots I had ever seen. They were gorgeous shiny black leather boots that came halfway up my calf. They had purple, blue, and yellow accents; the colors of our family crest. “I think they’re the best pair of shoes I’ve ever made” he said with no hint of pride in his voice. If he said something like that, it meant he believed it. “Thank you father” I said, beginning to feel tears well up in my eyes.

“But that’s not all” he said. “Reach down inside those boots.” I felt down into the left boot. At the foot of it there was some kind of paper rolled up. I pulled it out; it was a massive roll of money. I looked up at my father with a shocked look on my face; he just smiled kindly down at me. “Keep looking” he encouraged. I felt down into the right boot and found an equally sized roll of money. Now I did start crying. “Thank you father” I said. “You’ve earned it my son, I love you very much. I couldn’t have asked for you to turn out better than you have. A brilliant cobbler and a self taught wizard. You are truly a far more talented and intelligent man than I.” I couldn’t believe it. My father didn’t disagree with my magical pursuits, but he also never mentioned them. “Don’t let those shoes get muddy” he said to me smiling. “I won’t, I promise” I said back.

I prepared myself to meet with Pat and head off to London. Finally the day came. I went to meet him with everything I would need. As I arrived he was already there, he had his donkey loaded down with his possessions. I had far less than he. I ran up to him and we embraced each other in a hug. “Ready to go?” he asked. “You bet I am” I said. “It’s a brand new start for both of us” I said and I hugged him harder. He returned the hug. We dropped what we were holding and began making love. We were just finishing what we were doing when I heard a small, scared sounding voice. “Major? Are you ok?” ‘Oh Jesus’, I thought. I looked up and there was little Mariah, my eight year old sister looking scared and confused. Before Pat or I could react we heard another voice “You see him over there Mariah? Major we’ve come to send you off.” It was my father’s voice and I heard several footsteps approach. I tried to move but it was too late. My father peered over the bush Pat and I were behind and saw us, naked and connected. Quickly appearing behind him were two of his friends and quickly just behind them were both of their families and the rest of mine. For a few seconds that seemed like an eternity they just stared.

“HEATHENS!” yelled one of the men. “SCORN OF THE DEVIL, GET THEM!” cried the other. Quickly Pat was up and beginning to run. “DON’T YOU TOUCH MY SON!” shouted my father. “LAMYA, GET THE CHILDREN BACK TO THE HOUSE!” he commanded. The two men began to take chase on Pat. He was running away without any clothes or his donkey which had on it everything he owned. I spoke a few familiar words, more quickly than usual and blasted one of the man’s feet with ice. They froze together and he fell to his face skidding with the momentum from his stride. I fired a bolt at the other and missed. I conjured up a different spell on my next shot. I hit him and flung him into a tree. He fell limply to the ground. I quickly burned away the rope that had Pat’s donkey restrained. I spoke a few words into its ear and it went chasing off after Pat.

“William, William help me.” Cried the man whose feet were bound in ice. He had blood dripping from his scraped face and hands. My father looked at me. “I love you son, but go. Go and never come back.” I looked at him. My mind was racing. “I’m sorry” was all I said. He said nothing. I quickly threw on my clothes. The man on the ground was chipping away at the ice. I cast another spell and froze his hands to his feet. “Pursue me, and I will stop you” I said to him in the most calm voice I could manage, which I’m sure didn’t sound very calm at all. “But if you pursue my friend, I will do much worse” and I nodded towards the man who still lay motionless on the ground, I could now see that he was breathing so he must have just been unconscious, but I felt the point was still made. I turned to look one last time at my father, he did not look back. Then I ran.

“GOD DAMNIT!” I screamed out loud as I fell in the mud. I hate the mud. My shoes were brown with muck. I’d gone off in the direction Pat had. Perhaps it was foolish to go chasing after him; it might make it easier for both of us to be caught. I didn’t care though, I needed to find Pat. A while back I’d found where Pat’s donkey had caught up to him and I’d been following their side by side tracks ever since. Now, however, the rain had started to fall and I’d lost sight of their tracks what must have been a couple hours ago. Yet I just kept heading along the bank of the river, my hope dwindling. I was tired and weary, my muscles ached. I wanted to find a place to lie down and get some rest but I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep in this weather. I also didn’t want to sleep until I’d found Pat, but that was looking less and less likely.

“Hello Major” I heard a tired voice say. I jerked in surprise but I knew who it was right away. I turned and saw Pat standing next to a tree, his donkey’s lead in his hand. He’d had time to put on a new set of clothes. I flung myself upon him in a hug and began weeping. He embraced me back and we just stood like that for several minutes. “I’m sorry” I said, tears streaming freely from my eyes. “I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry I’m sorry, God I’m so sorry.” My sobs made my breath erratic and my words mumbled. “It’s ok” he said, trying to soothe me. “It wasn’t your fault, it wasn’t anyone’s fault. It just happened.” We continued to just hold each other. “We can’t linger here long” he said. “Let us flee to London then, I know the way. I can get us there without being seen” I implored. But he didn’t move. “No” he said. “I’m going to go stay with some friends for a while, at a place where I know I’ll be safe.” I gazed at him with a forlorn look of anguish at hearing those words. “Can I come with you?” I asked. A long pause followed. “No, I’m sorry you can’t.” I fell to my knees and bellowed. “PLEASE DON’T LEAVE ME, PLEASE YOU’RE ALL I HAVE! PLEASE! PAT, DON’T LEAVE ME! DON’T LEAVE ME!” Patroclus knelt down beside me.

“I love you, and I will never leave you save when death sees fit that I should. I just need to get away for a while, I need to compose myself.” My heart broke and I plopped down into the soggy mud. “If I don’t have you, then I have only one thing” I said. “And what is that?” he asked. “My wizardry” I replied. “When you’ve composed yourself and you’re ready to return to me I will be at Cambridge in London. I won’t change my name, they willn’t hear of this over there, I’ll be safe. Send me a letter. I’ll come get you.” “I promise” he said “I will contact you as soon as I feel I’m ready.” With that, we exchanged vows of love and parted. I headed for London, he for wherever he was going.

That was almost a year ago now and I still haven’t heard from him. With the money my father gave me I was able to buy my own house and easily pay for my education at Cambridge. They seemed amazed at all of which I was capable, having only learned from books. I study, I attend class, and I read. I check my school mailbox everyday for a letter from pat. I know it will come someday, and when it does I will go get him, and we can finally be together.

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