Monthly Archives: September 2015

A Familiar’s Tale – Part XI

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0Our trip was, as you say, smooth sailing. The ship skimmed along the water, even after leaving a port on the northern end of Sardinia, when it had to zig-zag to travel in a more southerly direction.

However, as I had pointed out earlier to Korbis, I was a land bird. The captain kept a clean ship and there was little in the way of bugs for me to eat. Korbis kept me alive by feeding me offal from the fish caught for the sailors’ food but my digestive system was not happy. Thankfully, we were only at sea five days. Longer, and I may not have lived.

After taking his leave of the captain, Korbis wandered the streets of Neapolis with his jaw hanging in awe. We’d never seen such a large city, much less one as cosmopolitan. Greeks in chitons and Romans in togas walked side-by-side along the thoroughfares with no signs of animosity.

At the entrance to a Roman bath, Korbis asked a man if there was a place a physician could ply his trade. Taking one look at the obvious barbarian in his breeches, tunic and cloak, the man grabbed Korbis by the arm and dragged him up one street and down another. I had taken flight to find real food (which was plentiful) but at a feeling of alarm from Korbis, I returned and followed them to a large house on a hill. Korbis was hauled through the doorway. I settled on the branch of a fig tree in the courtyard to await further happenings.

“You are a physician, you say. Heal my daughter.”

Through Korbis’ mind, I saw a pale young lady lying on a bed. Were it not for the shallow rise and fall of her breast, I would have thought her dead. The room was as lavish as the corridors Korbis had been dragged through: frescoes on the walls, carved furniture, and a shrine to Athena in the corner. Although the man spoke fluent Latin, they were Greek. That was fortunate.

Korbis asked a few questions, got fewer answers and, heaving a sigh, used his magic to look at her. A tumor on her brain told him why she did not wake. He relayed his findings to the father.

“Magos, you will heal her. Or I will turn you in to the Roman tribunus who is visiting his father, the senator, next door.”

Not stopping to wonder how the man knew he had magic, Korbis nodded and proceeded to draw the energy I was feeding him. More than an hour later, he had carefully evaporated the tumor. The girl’s breathing deepened and color started returning to her cheeks. This was in stark contrast to Korbis’ drawn appearance and my desire to do nothing but eat a full meal and sleep for two days. It had been a difficult “operation.” Even in those days, it was known that anything affecting the brain could have disastrous effects.

Korbis was fed and given a room, not quite as lavish, in which to lay his head. We both slept for the better part of a day. When we woke, a man guarding the door gestured and Korbis followed him to a salon where our host and several others reclined on couches.

Korbis was formally introduced to his host, Kalchas, a wealthy factory owner. The conversation reverted to Greek and although we did not understand what was being said, it was obvious Kalchas was exhorting his friends with a tale. Switching to Latin, Kalchas informed Korbis that he was now a member of his household. He was not to leave the house unless given express permission to do so. His duties would include seeing to the health of the household, instructing the gardeners which herbs he required to be planted and harvested, and assisting Kalchas’ friends when asked to do so.

Slavery! Gilded but a cage, nonetheless. Korbis was dismayed – he’d never find his mysterious island. I, on the other hand, while sad for my human, was happy that I would not have to travel the seas again.

Life settled into a routine. Korbis became accustomed to wearing a chiton rather than breeches (he complained frequently of the breeze on his nether regions), learned to speak passable Greek and, with a large herb garden, cured the ailments of the household and those of Kalchas’ friends. And like his predecessor, Abou, he prepared love charms, amulets for legal cases and talismans for race- or fight-fixing. The young lady he had healed, Agathe, while never the sharpest knife in the drawer, was married off to that tribunus within three months. That afforded Kalchas an entrée into even higher Roman society.

A little over a year into our captivity, Kalchas decided to retire. He turned over the operation of his factory to his oldest son and management of his distribution network to the middle son. The oldest son got the house in Neapolis and we moved to a smaller house in the beautiful seaside city of Herculaneum. It was just a few kilometers away so Kalchas could still keep an eye on his children.

Here, Korbis had to be even more circumspect. Herculaneum was at that time more Roman than Greek, although the Greeks had founded the city. Kalchas devoted the majority of his time to his new-found love of Roman politics. He and the senator (who had also retired and relocated) would spend hours discussing and debating what was happening in Rome. Korbis spent a good deal of time treating the gout so prevalent in the older, less active generation that was Kalchas and his friends.

Then, one fateful late summer day, the mountain Vesuvius started billowing ash. No one, not even the oldest alive, remembered that it was a volcano. At the first signs, panic hit the city and everyone rushed to the sea, hoping to take a boat far away. Korbis and several other slaves were told to pack Kalchas’ valuables and join him at a specific spot along the shoreline. I was told to follow the master so Korbis could be sure of meeting him in the correct place. I took flight but we never made it. The last thing I remember of that life is air hotter than an oven.

A Familiar’s Tale – Part X

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0How different the ocean air than that next to a river! I found it heavier and had to adjust my flight to compensate. Then there was the salt that accumulated on my feathers. I was not meant to live in such an environment and told Korbis so by projecting images of the Ebro valley we had left.

My needs, however, did not factor into his decision. Korbis wandered the area next to the docks, discreetly inquiring of this mystical northern island where the Romans did not hold sway. Although more than a few eyebrows were raised, no one turned him in, nor was information forthcoming until late in the day when he had stopped for food and a glass of wine. He met an old, grizzled sailor who said we might have better luck in a larger port.

“Not much happens here,” he told Korbis. “You’d be better off asking about faraway places where more ships put in.”

“Where would you suggest I go?” Korbis asked him.

“I understand there are learned men at Neapolis who might be able to point you in the right direction. It’s a large port with a lot of rich people. There must be someone there who knows which island you’re speaking of.”

“And how would I get to this Neapolis? I’m only a simple physician without much to pay for passage.”

“As it happens, we ply the Mare Nostrum and Neapolis is the other end of our journey. However, our captain has the flux in a bad way. That’s why I and my fellows are here, rather than on board, making ready to set sail. We’re a small ship without our own physician so if you can help the captain, he may see fit to carry you on our next voyage. Then again, he may not.”

Having nothing to lose, Korbis asked the man to show him to his captain.

Within the confines of the captain’s cabin, the odor was bad even for me. I cannot imagine how the humans stood it. The captain was lying in his bunk, curled in the fetal position with his arms pressed against his abdomen. Next to the bunk was a slop pail – this is where the smell was coming from. I flew back out on deck and listened to Korbis’ mind as I perched on one of the masts.

Korbis determined that the man had eaten some bad food. Or possibly been poisoned. But he guessed it was tainted food. That, he knew, would pass on its own in a couple of days. Telling the hovering sailor that he needed a jug of watered wine, he told the captain he would prepare a medicine that should help him in a few hours.

The sailor returned with a cup of watered wine. Into this, he crumbled some berry leaves from his pouch and held the cup over the flame of a candle on the captain’s desk to heat it.

When he was satisfied with the medicated wine, he helped the captain to sit and fed the wine to him in sips.

Once again, the hovering sailor was pressed into service as a cabin boy. Broth was needed, as was bread. The ship apparently did have a cook so it did not take too long for the required food to appear. Although Korbis had to cajole him, the food was consumed and the captain finally fell into a slumber.

(This entire sequence took far longer than I have described as the captain attempted to empty his bowels several times. I do not think I need to describe that in detail.)

“I have done what I could,” Korbis told the sailor. “He should start feeling better by the morning. May I stay to ensure that he does?”

“Not my ship but as my son is in no position to gainsay me, I will invite you to stay in his cabin in case he should need you.”

“Your son, you say?” Korbis was surprised.

“Aye. I had no desire to a captaincy but he wanted the money that comes with it. I prefer less responsibility.”

Korbis told the truth. The captain was feeling somewhat better by morning. Another dose of herbs in wine and more broth and bread had him on deck by noon. Physically pale and weak, the captain nonetheless gave orders to make the ship ready to sail with that afternoon’s tide. Korbis was granted passage to Neapolis in payment for his services and his “pet bird” was welcomed as a means for keeping seagulls from eating the fish caught daily for food. I may be somewhat smaller than a seagull and my beak not nearly as long but I am quicker and able to maneuver better in flight to chase those garbage hounds away.

To Be Continued…