Monthly Archives: July 2015

A Familiar’s Tale – Part VI

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0

For your edification, the ether is like being in thick, gray smoke. Your spirit would be lost forever but we always know where we are, even if we cannot actually see anything. From somewhere, I heard a deep voice say, “You have done well, youngling, although you have much to learn. There are ways to block your human from drawing too much energy.”

Images crowded my head on ways to block parts of the human brain to prevent a human from causing harm to him or herself. “Remember what I have shown you. Your human was old so it is no great loss but that may not always be the case. Protecting your human from himself is part of the reason for your existence.”

I felt a push from behind and the next I knew, I was chipping my way out of an egg, surrounded by others doing the same with their beaks. The next several weeks saw me in a stick-lined nest built into the eaves of a manmade building where no man came, eating worms and insects from the beaks of my mother and father.

My siblings and I were just learning to fly when one day a strong storm ravaged our area. Two men, one older, one younger took shelter in our building. My parents both sat on the nest, attempting to keep us safe but the nest was blown from its perch and we all tumbled out. I landed right in the lap of the child. I could not see where the rest of my family went but I knew I was where I was supposed to be.

“It is a sign, Korbis,” said the older man. “You must care for the bird.”

The boy cradled me in his arms as he slept and when the next day dawned bright and sunny, attempted to perch me on his shoulder as they walked. Not yet well able to manage my balance, I promptly fell off and fluttered around in an effort to fly back up to my designated perch. After several attempts I finally managed the five-foot flight. Korbis cooed at me and stroked my feathers, then winced as I dug my talons into his shoulder in an effort to stay put.

As they walked, the older man taught my new human about me.

“Your bird is a chough. Black birds have many associations in many cultures and most of them, including ours and that of our overlords are lucky ones. Therefore, you must protect your bird from others as they might try to steal it for good luck of their own.

“You must encourage his efforts to fly so he can get his own food. He will eat almost anything, although grasshoppers seem to be a favorite food for adults. In the meantime, we will try to find an ant colony when we stop.”

They did indeed make camp in a grassy area with enough ants for me to make a full meal. Most of these I caught by hopping around but I also managed a flight of a few yards to spot another anthill. After they had eaten their meal of bread and dried fruit washed down by some watered wine, the older man took a piece of leather from his pack and with a length of sinew and a bone needle, sewed it to the shoulder of Korbis’ tunic. “This will prevent his claws from digging any more holes into your skin. We will need to find a thicker piece of leather when he gets a little older because he’ll go right through this one with his talons.”

About noon the next day, we came to a large field of grapevines. After inquiring of one of the workers tending the vines, we made our way some distance farther and up a small hill to a compound. After speaking with the steward answering the door, the older man presented himself to the lord of the manor. “I believe you are expecting me. My name is Orison and I am your new vintner.”

“Yes, yes, man. I am grateful you were able to take the position. The sons of my previous vintner are yet too young to know the job. I assume this is your son?”

“No, sir. He is my nephew, the son of my dead sister. He is also my apprentice and is learning my trade. While he learns, he also helps tend vines.”

“You are both welcome. I presume that is some sort of pet bird? We have a dovecote where it can stay. My steward will show you that on the way to your quarters. As you undoubtedly saw on your way here, the vines are just blossoming. Until they are ready for pressing, I would like you to inspect our cellar, consult with my physician on which spices to use for his needs and get to know the people and routine around here. I must leave for a week or so but I will speak with you on my return.”

I was unceremoniously left in a room covered in droppings with a bunch of stupid doves. This was not where I wanted to be! However, some hours later, Korbis came to get me.

“I’m sorry,” he said while holding out his arm, indicating I should perch there. “I had to leave you here when the steward was watching. I also had to see what our quarters were like. We have a window and Orison has fashioned a perch for you next to it.” He stroked my back as he walked down the tower stairs and finally into a room at the end of a long hallway. It smelled of wine and herbs.

Korbis put me on my perch and I watched while he and Orison unpacked their belongings. They were just finishing when a man came into the room.

“Orison! I heard the new vintner had the same name as my old friend and just had to see. When did you develop that skill? And who’s the youngster?”

Orison and the older man clasped arms. “Tal! Are you the physician here? Tell me it’s so. The young man is my apprentice. I am passing him off as my nephew. How have you been?”

While Korbis finished putting their meagre belongings away, the two older men opened a bottle of wine found in a cupboard, mixed it with water in a pitcher and, sitting at the table in the room, caught up. I eavesdropped and found out that both older men practiced magic and had been taught by the same master. Korbis was the orphaned son of a healer Orison had had an affair with, and Orison learned the job of vintner from another mage he had encountered on his travels.

“Honestly, Tal, being a vintner is no difficult thing once you know your grapes. It’s just a question of when to harvest which varietal, which to blend with other varietals, which go well with herbs for your use … it’s fairly easy, pays well and gives me quite a bit of free time to do – other things.”

“It’s easy being a physician here, as well. There’s good air, not a lot of fighting, and few accidents. Mostly I treat the illnesses of the local children with a few broken bones thrown in for good measure and gather herbs in season. The previous vintner, may the gods protect him on his journey, knew nothing of herbcraft so I also oversaw the making of medicinal wines. Are you up on the local plants?”

Korbis got bored and decided to go exploring. I fluttered my way to his shoulder and we went outside through the door opposite the one to the hallway.

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part V

[Amy sez: DJ has gathered Fudge’s story thus far into a box over on your right.]

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Abou woke about an hour later and the man in charge, a physician I gathered, asked him in halting Egyptian if he spoke either the Roman language or Greek, to which Abou replied in the same halting voice, “Read both, yes. Speak each a little”. Abou had had enough contact with them to pick up a few words and phrases.

“My head hurts. Where am I and why have I been taken?” Abou continued.

In Egyptian, the physician continued, “Hit on head. Commander needs help. You there. Now here. I put herbs and cloth on head to help.”

From underneath the cot, I projected enough images to Abou so he would know exactly what had happened to him. Once understanding the headache, Abou questioned the physician about the poultice on his head. Through words in three languages and gestures, he learned that it was an herb found in mountains that the Greeks had discovered healed bruises.

“You healer?” inquired the physician.

“No, scribe,” Abou replied. “Like knowledge.”

“Ah. Explains trierarch’s interest. He like knowledge, too.”

The physician turned to another patient and the older man I had seen earlier walked into the room. After inquiring as to his sailors (some would live, others it was doubtful), he inquired if Abou was able to be moved.

“Yes. He has a bump on his head and a headache but otherwise will be fine.”

The older man gestured to Abou to follow him. We did. In silence.

Back in the older man’s quarters, he indicated that Abou should sit and finally noticed me. In perfect Egyptian, he said, “I am told you are a magician. You may serve me in such a capacity or be a slave and help row this ship. Your cat is welcome here – we have too many rats.”

Abou had never done much physical labor and, truthfully, had retained his scrawny build. Rowing would probably have killed him and he knew it. However, he also knew something of Roman life.

“How would I serve you? Magic is forbidden in your culture. Perhaps dying as a slave would be preferable to dying as a magician.”

“I am Greek. My culture accepts magic. In the Roman culture, magic is technically forbidden but only black magic is prosecuted. My man tells me you can call water. As trierarch or captain of a ship, being able to manipulate my ship through water with ease would earn me great rewards. I assume you have other skills I could put to use, as well.”

Abou was nothing if not truthful. “Although I can work with Water, it is not my true element. I will do my best to help where I can but I may not be able to do everything you ask.”

The captain thought for a moment. “I will take every edge I can get. If you can call a wave of water to fight a fire, you should be able to do whatever it is I will require. I will keep you.”

So, their partnership began. Technically, as a captured barbarian, Abou was a slave. Practically speaking, the captain had just garnered himself a librarius and exceptor. Abou became the official keeper of financial records and scribe. Secretly, Abou was the captain’s mage…helping the seas move the ship, easing the burden of the rowing slaves which kept them in better health; surreptitiously helping the medicus treat injuries to some of the trierarch’s favored sailors with healing spells; causing difficulties aboard an enemy ship; and basically making himself useful wherever the captain deemed he could be of use. It did, indeed, earn him accolades and financial reward.

I was put to use, as well, but not always helping Abou. Rats were common aboard ships. Although everything was stored in clay jars with stoppers, grain spillage was common and the vermin feasted on it. I ate well and the cook gave me treats of fish to reward my efforts.

For five years, we didn’t set foot on dry land. Even when the ship was in port to offload and load cargo, take on supplies, or assist the Roman legions with one of their many skirmishes, Abou wasn’t given shore leave with the freeman crew but locked away with the rest of the slaves. The captain didn’t want him running away although I wasn’t sure where we would go – we sailed throughout the Mediterranean but never saw Alexandria again.

Finally, the captain decided he’d earned enough to retire. Rather than going back to his native Greece, he purchased a house near Tharros, Sardinia, which allowed him a view of his beloved sea. He kept Abou, the ship’s cook, and several other slaves. The ship and the rest of the crew were sold to another Greek who also wanted to earn his rewards working for the Romans.

The captain brought his wife, three daughters-in-law and several grandchildren from Greece to the house in Tharros. His sons, also ship captains, visited when they were able. It was a crowded household and the grandchildren had the strange idea that I was nothing more than a pet. I would be snatched from my spot near Abou’s desk to be cuddled and petted at a moment’s notice. It was enjoyable to a certain extent but it quickly became tiresome.

Abou had read enough in the library and spoken with enough Romans and Greeks in our five years aboard ship to learn of their ways of magic. Although he was known as the captain’s scribe, his reputation as a mage rapidly spread. Neighbors and friends of the captain and his household would ask permission to consult on various personal matters.

My human had learned to be flexible in his workings: inscribed lead sheets were given to the captain’s Roman friends, amulets to the Greeks, various incense mixtures to all. After years of working mostly health, fair winds and money spells, he added legal matters, love and even race-fixing to his repertoire. I found the human needs interesting.

Abou added to the captain’s coffers even on dry land so except for the collar denoting him as a slave, Abou had a life almost as comfortable as the captain’s. We had our own room in the house rather than sharing accommodations with the other slaves; Abou ate the same rich food as was prepared for the family; and he was free to decide which requests for magical assistance he would take on and what the captain would receive for his services.

The captain was not a young man when he’d taken Abou aboard ship and nothing was going to halt the ravages of age, inactivity and overindulgence on a human body. Abou tried his best to assist the physician in his efforts to save the captain after a massive heart attack, to no avail. Unfortunately, those efforts were also the downfall of Abou. Not a young man himself and despite my warnings, Abou drew too much energy into his body in an effort to save his master. His heart stopped moments after the captain was declared dead and I found myself in the ether.

To be continued…

[Amy sez: Fudge is a built-in history lesson. I didn’t know the Romans hired Greeks and their ships because the Greeks were much better sailors.]

Herbs ARE Drugs

Image from my ACHS webinar

Last week in my webinar, I mentioned that herbs are drugs. In the Q&A session afterwards, someone asked me why I said that. The answer is quite easy. A quick Google search of the definition of “drug” brings up, “a medicine or other substance which has a physiological effect when ingested or otherwise introduced into the body”. Doesn’t this succinctly sum up why we take herbs in a medicinal context? It also could be used to describe the food we eat!

But to go a little more in depth, plants/herbs have chemicals in them – they’re just naturally produced by Mother Nature in her plant factories rather than artificially produced by Man in laboratories. It’s the chemicals that have the physiological effect we’re seeking when we take herbs in a medicinal context (or to get high…). One of the blogs I read, Nature’s Poisons, is written by a forensic toxicologist and he’ll give you all the chemistry lessons you want about why nasty plants (and animals) work the way they do on our body. (Justin also has a great sense of humor. You should read that blog.)

Anyways, I was mistaken when I gave the etymology of the word, “drug”. From the Online Etymology Dictionary: “late 14c. (early 14c. in Anglo-French), “medicine, chemical ingredients,” from Old French droge “supply, stock, provision” (14c.), which is of unknown origin, perhaps from Middle Dutch or Middle Low German droge-vate “dry barrels,” or droge waere, literally “dry wares,” but specifically drugs and spices, with first element mistaken as word for the contents (see dry goods), or because medicines mostly consisted of dried herbs.”

So, as you see, herbs are drugs.

A Familiar’s Tale – Part IV

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0

Life was comfortable for the next two centuries. Abou continued to shine in his position as a librarian and his reputation as a mage grew, too. He was consulted by many, including the Pharaoh’s advisors, on subjects ranging from military matters to healing potions. The library held much information and Abou had ample opportunity to read most of it.

My position as Abou’s favorite pet was never questioned. Abou explained my unchanging presence by telling everyone that I was a descendant of “the original he’d rescued so many years ago” and followed in his master’s footsteps of attributing his own longevity to a gift from his gods. I understand the gods work in mysterious ways so although he outlived several Pharaohs, his age was never questioned.

Our life was comfortable, that is, until the Romans came to Alexandria. As I understand it, political and military alliances are common among humans and some Romans had allied themselves with powerful Egyptians. There were Roman ships docked in the harbor and soldiers frequently roamed our streets. I had seen several in the Library consulting the papyri and codices for knowledge.

One night, several of their ships caught fire. The wind was blowing from just the right direction and the fire spread to the part of the Library that Abou oversaw. We slept in rooms adjacent to our hall and the smoke woke us.

Naturally, after something over two hundred years, Abou’s magic came easily to him and he was knowledgeable of all elemental work. He mustered up every ounce of energy we both could draw and called Water in a huge wave from the harbor in an effort to aid those already fighting the fire with buckets. Although magicians were usually circumspect in their workings, Abou failed to look about him and he was observed by a Roman soldier, who promptly hit Abou on the head with the hilt of his sword, knocking him out. Without Abou’s water, the fire leapt back up and continued to burn, although soldiers, librarians and ordinary citizens were making good headway in extinguishing it.

The soldier threw Abou over his shoulder and carried him to a ship that had been untouched by the fire. In the melee, I followed my human, unnoticed.

Abou was carried into a large room below the main deck and deposited unceremoniously on the floor in front of a desk occupied by an older man. “He has magic,” the soldier said, relating Abou’s attempts to put out the fire.

“Excellent!” the man behind the desk said. “I could use a magician. See to it that he is made comfortable and any injuries are tended.”

The soldier saluted, picked Abou up and carried him to another, much smaller room down a corridor where several other people were lying on cots, many with bandages over parts of their body. The soldier put Abou on a cot, told the man in charge that he was to be made comfortable on order of the trierarch, then left. I curled up under his cot, determined to find out what our new life would be like.