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…