Monthly Archives: August 2015

A Familiar’s Tale – Part IX

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0For over forty years, Tal and Korbis traveled the province of Aragon, settling for about ten years in any one place before Tal got the itch to move on once again. At each town, Tal would start a garden with seeds he’d saved of the healing herbs he knew best: thyme, rosemary, parsley, mint, lavender and lemon balm. This garden announced to the neighbors that a healer was amongst them and the two magicians did not lack for business.

Although the Roman influence was felt nearly everywhere, they always settled in towns where the locals only tolerated Roman rule. In this way, they knew their services would not only be wanted but it would be unlikely they’d be reported for the practice of witchcraft. But one early fall day, Tal made a fatal mistake…

It was grape harvest season and there was always work to be found for a physician during this time, treating various ailments and injuries of the vine workers. He and Korbis were passing through the city of Caesaraugusta, which lay in the valley of the Ebro River – a prime area for wine grapes.

At that time, the Romans were spiritually divided: some held faith with the old gods while others were following the new Christ. In the city of Caesaraugusta, a temple to Diana has been taken over and was being re-consecrated as a Christian church. Tal and Korbis happened to pass in front of the building on their way to find lodgings for the night when a fight broke out between the arguing factions.

Whenever Romans fought, injuries followed and within minutes, the two men were caught up in the melee, attempting to help those who had fallen. As I perched on the roof, Korbis helped a woman who had been hit on the head to the steps of the building. Digging in his pouch, he handed a handful of arnica flowers he’d obtained in trade to her, telling her to use them in a poultice on the lump that was forming on her forehead.

Down in the street, one particular man was bleeding out from a stab wound to his side. Tal knew he’d have to act fast to save the man’s life so in addition to ripping off a part of his robe to staunch the blood flow, he injected some healing magic into the man to start the process of knitting together the blood vessels.

A bystander saw the blood stop pouring out of the man and started yelling, “Magic! He’s a magician! Guards! Magic!”

That effectively stopped the fight as everyone turned to look at Tal. Neither side had much use for magic so it didn’t take long for them to turn on a common enemy. In the blink of an eye, two men who had been guarding the church were hauling Tal up off the man he’d been trying to save. Korbis heard the shouting and began to make his way through the crowd to Tal.

“Run, boy. Save your own life,” Tal said with his head hung, to avoid laying suspicion on Korbis.

Korbis froze in his spot. Although they’d frequently discussed the possibility of death due to the changing customs, he was indecisive as to whether to abandon his friend and mentor. I had no choice but to project an image of Korbis being beheaded, which would have happened had he stayed. Whether Korbis exhibited any signs of magic or not, he would have been guilty by association.

With a last look back at Tal held fast in the burly arms of the two soldiers, I took flight and Korbis turned away from Tal, walking as calmly as he could away from the fracas in front of the temple.

That night within the confines of his room at an inn on the edge of the city, Korbis mourned his friend. As did I. Tal was a jovial man, always ready with a joke, which eased the minds of many of the patients he tended. He also helped Korbis with his magic, which, in turn, strengthened my connection to my human.

Korbis vowed to leave the Roman-occupied area, but where to go? He’d learned from talking to people over the years that the Roman influence was widespread. However, he’d heard there was an island far to the north where they had little, if no influence. The first step, then, was to make our way to the coast and hope to find a trading ship to take us to that mysterious place.

We left Caesaraugusta the next morning. Korbis didn’t know where he wanted to go – only that it needed to be toward a major port. We followed the Ebro eastward, reasoning that where it flowed into the ocean would be as good a place to look for a ship as any. As we had in our travels with Tal, Korbis plied his trade as a traveling physician, staying at first this farmhouse, then that townhouse, trading his healing skills for lodging, food, and the occasional coin.

During this time, Korbis kept his magical skills under wraps. Walking the Roman-built roads, we saw far too many soldiers and citizens dressed in the Roman style to be comfortable. In those places where he felt relatively safe, he’d cast a quiet charm for a young lady to find love; or for a young couple to have a good harvest, bringing in a little extra money to aid them in starting their life together.

Two years later, we smelled brackish air – we’d reached the delta. Inquiring of a traveler met coming in the opposite direction, Korbis learned there was a small port just a day’s journey farther. We camped that night in the open and the next day arrived at the Roman trading post that doubled as a port.

To Be Continued…

Today in the Garden

Got out today for the first time in almost 2 weeks. It rained, then I sprained a toe, then it rained…

I’d like to say I was playing in the dirt but in reality, kids and I could have made some marvelous mud pies with the dirt in the beds. Over two inches of rain in three days will do that. The skies are still mostly overcast today and there’s a good chance of even more rain over the weekend. And mowing needs to be done…

I thought I’d share what I saw today – besides mud and weeds:

IMG_0059A spot of sunshine on a gloomy day – Calendula
IMG_0061Someone, probably a deer, couldn’t sleep. (Can you see the gnawed-off stalks?) Skullcap
IMG_0062Rosemary has three unusual neighbors – Leucocoprinus birnbaumii. Not usually found outdoors in my climate.

As always on overcast days, I was accompanied by Larry the Cable Guy’s grandmother – the solar water fountain that sounds like that when there isn’t enough solar radiation to fully power it. Squelch, squirt, squelch…

The Alphabet of Galen – A Review

If you’ve followed me for any length of time, you know I love reading historical herbals and other medicinal texts. I find comparing what “they” knew “then” to what we know today an interesting (and sometimes mind-boggling) exercise. You’d be surprised at how accurate some entries are, without scientific evidence.

The Alphabet of Galen wasn’t written by the Galen (c. 129-217 CE) but predates him by probably one or two hundred years. Someone a few centuries down the line gave it that name – who knows why? The translator was able to see eight manuscripts dating from the seventh to the twelfth centuries (none identical, some fragmented), along with the first printed edition (1490). Although I can’t read Latin, I’m still jealous. I do own several pairs of white cotton gloves…

The first third of the book is discussion of the history, sources, translation/dating and the manuscripts themselves. The last fifteen percent or so is an extensive bibliography and index. In between are the 302 entries with Latin on the left and English on the right. It’s extensively footnoted.

Yes, some of the entries scared the bejeezus out of me. Bathing in lye, anyone? The same fragmented entry mentions something about “[…] true for the internal uses […]”! Others made me a little queasy – I’m not sure I’d ingest a skink’s inner flesh (in a twelfth of a pint of wine) as an aphrodisiac. Yet others, however, told of properties we still know today, such as St. John’s Wort “heals burns when applied topically by means of a compress”.

Mr. Everett did a wonderful job not only translating but cross-referencing this Materia medica with other well-known writers such as Dioscorides and Pliny.

It’s a fascinating glimpse into far-ancient times. Unlike many of its contemporaries, there isn’t a spot of superstition or magic. It’s all “fact”.

Five stars.

A Familiar’s Tale – Part VIII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0This is where Korbis shined. He learned from Tal which herbs were used for what, how to blend them to make medicinal wine, how to use mechanical methods as well as magic to set a broken bone…all the tools of a physician of the time. Several times a year, a legion or more of the Roman army passed through the area and both Tal and Korbis assisted their medicos, learning from one another, although Tal and Korbis were careful to hide their magical nature. The Romans did not take kindly to magic unless it was in the form of a rite to a god or goddess. A Roman god or goddess, I might add. The gods worshiped by the locals were not the same, although the more the Romans settled in the area, the more their religion was adopted.

By the time Korbis was in his late twenties, Tal was encouraging him to find a girl, get married and start raising a family. Little did anyone know that my human had retained his first crush on the lord’s daughter, Munika, who had been married off to the son of an adjoining land owner when she was sixteen. Her husband joined the Roman army, was killed in a battle somewhere and she had returned to her parents’ home a childless widow. The problem was, she was not a witch and like most people, Korbis did not want to far outlive his spouse. Tal was able to ferret this piece of information out of Korbis and they had a discussion about it.

“Love does not distinguish between magical and non-magical people, Korbis,” Tal told him. “Munika is now a widow, meaning she will not be considered a prime catch. The lord has already provided one dowry and I doubt he will provide another, making her even less desirable. You, on the other hand, are a free man, have a verifiable skill, can provide for her even if you live elsewhere, and aren’t too bad looking in the bargain. Does she share your feelings?”

Korbis nodded, miserable in his predicament. “Yes, but she does not know of my magic. I have been afraid to tell her. She learned Roman ways during her marriage and now speaks against it.”

“Ah,” Tal said in understanding. “Yet you still love her.”

“Yes!” Korbis cried. “She is beautiful, sweet, gentle, everything that a man could wish for.”

“In that case, there is a spell that can be used to make you appear to age. Mind you, it won’t be as quickly as a human will age and you will get all the aches and pains associated with advancing years but if you can hide everything else, this will make you appear human.”

At this, I cautioned my human and it was not easy to do since I had not yet developed mind-speech. The spell works, yes. But it can come with complications.

[“Such as…?”]

Think on it, my human – Amy. If they had children, how would he explain his great longevity to them after his wife died? How would he explain it to his adult grandchildren or even great-grandchildren? Worse yet, if he did not maintain the spell and started to appear younger? And if a descendant should exhibit magical abilities, and it is likely one or more would, what then?

You will recall the wizard, Gregory, I believe he is called, encountered difficulty with his non-magical father when his magic manifested. He was just forced to leave his home. In the Roman culture, it could mean a death sentence.

Korbis was better off with a local girl who had not been corrupted by Roman influence. The locals were what you term Celtiberians who still accepted magic in all its forms, although they preferred that its practice was not done openly to prevent retribution by the ever-growing Roman presence.

Once Korbis thought about all I had cautioned, although he was extremely unhappy, he saw the logic.

“I don’t want to be deceitful,” he told Tal. “I also can’t stay here and watch her marry someone else.”

“I was just thinking that I’d been here thirty years and it was time for me to be moving on. I would be delighted to have you as a traveling companion. However, if we both are leaving, we will have to wait until the lord finds another physician. Can you tolerate your situation until then?”

Korbis nodded glumly. “I will have to, won’t I? I also need to tell Munika I am leaving with you. She will not be understanding.”

And so, Tal gave the news to the lord, who seemed to take it in stride. Korbis told Munika that he was leaving with Tal. That did not go so well. Naturally, Munika did not understand why Korbis was leaving her and as with most women, tears of sadness and then anger flowed. Her rage served Korbis well, though, as she went out of her way to avoid seeing him. That made the break-up easier to bear.

In less than a month, an older Roman medico was persuaded to take up residence and we were on our way. Tal did not wish to meet up with any Romans (who may have conscripted them) so we made our way through the countryside rather than use the wide thoroughfares constructed by the occupying army.

To Be Continued…

A Familiar’s Tale – Part VII

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0We found ourselves outside the manor wall and looking down the hill at the rows upon rows of grapevines. “There’s plenty of room for you to fly around and I’ll wager a lot of bugs, too,” Korbis pulled me off his shoulder and threw me up into the air. I was growing stronger and managed a brief flight before I saw a snack – a juicy looking grasshopper on the edge of the grape fields. Two more and I was full for the moment, so flew back to Korbis, who was wandering around, looking at the compound itself and eyeing the fields where not only men but several ladies were tying vines to supports and checking the vines’ health.

We were called back to the room by Orison. “We dine with the other workers in the common hall but you must leave your bird here. We will look at the window tomorrow in full light to see how it can be adapted for his use while still keeping out the weather.”

The next morning, Orison and Tal together refashioned the leather latch on the wooden shutter so I could open it myself. Although Orison knew what I was, it was explained to young Korbis that choughs are exceptionally intelligent birds, which was why it only took a few tries for me to master it. I now had the freedom to go find my own food whenever I was hungry.

Orison and Korbis spent a lot of time in the fields, getting to know not only the workers but the grapes. I finally learned to fly long distances and between flights, kept many an insect from invading the fields.

Spring turned to summer, which slowly turned to fall and the first harvest overseen by Orison. Everyone was busy picking, pressing or catching the juice in clay amphorae, which were taken into the cellar for fermentation. Orison oversaw the pressing, noting which was free-running juice (the best and once fermented, sold to the Romans for a hefty sum), first-press (for the lord’s table, the medicinal wines and also used to pay Roman taxes) and second-press (for the household). Korbis, by the mark made by Orison on the amphora, directed the storage in the cellar.

During this first harvest, Korbis hit puberty, which means his magic manifested. Thankfully, it was in our room in the evening so no one but Orison saw the piece of rock fly out of the fireplace when Korbis lost his temper in regards to keeping company with one of the lord’s daughters.

“Ah, your magic has finally manifested,” Orison said as he calmly picked up the rock, replaced it in the fireplace, and waved his hands to firmly affix it to its neighbors.

“I…what?” Korbis sputtered.

“You knew your mother had magic, yes?” Korbis nodded.

“You knew what she did out of sight of curious eyes was to be kept secret?” Korbis nodded yet again.

“Your mother entrusted you to me on her deathbed not just because I could teach you a trade but because she knew your magic would come in when you hit puberty and I could teach you about that, as well.

“You have a lot to learn. We will now commence lessons in the evenings – and during the day in the winter months. In the meantime, you must keep control of your temper, especially when we’re not alone. Bird, I know you hate enclosed spaces but you’ll have to stay in the cellar with him while he works. I’m counting on you to control him if he can’t control himself.”

Korbis looked from Orison to me and back again. “Huh?”

“Your bird is your familiar. He’ll help you with your magic. You’ll get to know him better during your lessons. Now, it’s bedtime. It’s going to be another long day tomorrow.”

When Korbis had bedded down, I introduced myself in his mind. That caused him to sit straight up in bed, yelling for Orison, who quickly relit the lamp.

“What is it, boy?”

“There are spirits here! I felt one!”

Orison laughed, which caused Korbis to become angry. When he opened his mouth to yell, I quickly dampened his anger and projected an image of myself along with the calming energy. Korbis continued to hold his mouth open while looking first at me then at Orison.

“There probably are spirits here but I do not think they’re bothering with a young boy. Did you feel pressure in your head, sort of like the start of a headache but not quite?”

Korbis closed his mouth long enough to swallow, then nodded and said, “Yes, and now I can’t get the picture of my bird out of my head. I was mad and now I feel just fine. What is happening to me?”

Orison laughed again. “Remember what I said about your bird being your familiar? I believe he is introducing himself while at the same time, controlling your temper so you don’t cause the entire house to collapse with your unwarranted anger.”
“How do you know this?” Korbis asked.

A note of sadness touched Orison’s voice. “I once had a familiar, as well. Sadly, he was killed by hunters some time ago so I am left alone. But I do remember our days together. Guard your bird well, Korbis, and treasure him.”

Orison extinguished the lamp and I let go of the block on Korbis’ emotions. I projected an image of Korbis asleep on his bed then a second one of me asleep on my perch. He got the message and shortly, his conscious mind drifted off and he started dreaming of spending time amongst the vines with the lord’s daughter. This didn’t concern me so I disassociated myself with his mind and I, too, went to sleep.

[Amy interjected, “You mean you can see everything in my head, even my dreams?”]

Yes but as I have told you in the past, most of it does not interest me so I, as you say, tune it out. May I continue?

Korbis was like you, a fast learner. Within three years, he had outpaced Orison in power. However, he had almost no interest in learning the vintner’s trade. Instead, with the lord’s permission, he became apprenticed to the lord’s physician, Tal.

To be continued…