Deborah J. "DJ" Martin

A Witch and a Bitch with an Herbal Itch - and an overactive imagination

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Category: Ogre’s Assistant

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…

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 II

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0

Image by Dave Scelfo. Used under Creative Commons license 2.0

Fudge continues his story (Prologue and Part I).

 

Familiars, like witches and wizards, have an affinity for one element. Mine is Earth and I am always assigned to Earth-affinity humans. Abou’s master was Water-affinity and did not know how to teach an Earth. He petitioned his gods to change Abou’s element. Needless to say, the petition went unanswered. One cannot change their element! However, the master seemed to be attached to Abou and rather than sell Abou to another mage-priest who was of the correct affinity, the master determined to make Abou the best priest he could. We were taught basic energy manipulation and what Water spells we could handle but Abou and I were on our own to learn how to handle our element. That we accomplished by asking questions of other mages and practicing in our quarters at night.

As a mage’s assistant, Abou was taught how to make the various incenses that were burned at specific times of the day in the temple; how to make spell tablets, charms, amulets and the like for the common people; and most importantly, how to read and write, writing being necessary for the spell tablets and the scrolls buried with their dead. That allowed Abou to read the scrolls of knowledge from all parts of the known world housed in the library his master oversaw.

Abou became proficient in all that was required of a priest but his magic never seemed very strong, even when I added my own strength to his. Whatever he attempted, his master always seemed to accomplish with much less effort. In the beginning, I just thought the master was stronger.

One day Abou attempted to infuse a potion with simple healing energy and only managed a trickle of power, even with my help. The master brushed Abou aside and with no effort, I saw a good stream of energy make its way from his hands to the potion. I felt I had failed my human until I saw a glint in his master’s eye then heard in my head, “A familiar’s magic is only as strong as his human’s. In effect, you double his power. Your human is very weak but only because his master siphons energy from him. You must help your human to break that cycle if he is to become all he may be.”

This was the first communication I had received from a superior since the welcome message I received when I was about six months of age. I sent a query back of, “why now?”

And felt my head swing sideways as I received a metaphysical slap from what I perceived as a much larger paw. “You have the knowledge within you but it was obvious you needed a reminder. Search yourself, youngling!”

After another cuff on the ear, the presence withdrew from my mind. My head was reeling both from the slap and the realization that my superior was correct. I had seen the flows of energy between Abou and his master and ignored them. In my naiveté, I assumed humans knew to draw from the natural energy around them as I did … from the air, earth, water, even fire. Apparently, Abou’s master did not adhere to this principle. Instead, he drew from his apprentice or anyone else who happened to be in proximity.

But how to tell Abou his master was an energy thief without dimming his adoration for the man who had pulled him from starvation and given him a purpose in life? How to tell him he must shield when we only communicated in images and feelings?

To be continued…

A Familiar’s Tale, Prologue

If you’ve been reading the Ogre’s Assistant series, you know that Amy is a witch with a familiar. Below is a recent conversation between them as recounted by Amy:

Fudge's current incarnation

“You tell me you’re older than Yoda. You must’ve seen some interesting stuff, huh?” I said.

My familiar, a chocolate-brown cat named Fudge, interrupted his never-ending bath and looked at me.

“It depends upon what you consider interesting. I have seen a lot in my time, yes.”

“I’m not doing anything at the moment. Care to tell me about it?”

“You want me to relate my life story? Why? Is not the fact that I have a lot of experience working with humans enough?”

[Fudge had spent enough time in my head to know that I always want to know about people. Not only am I a nosy person in general, I put people I meet in my stories. They’ve made my secret life as a paranormal romance author easy at times.]

“Why not? Your story might give me some insight into the way you think and maybe then, I’d understand a little more about your role in my life.”

[Did I forget to mention? I’m a thirty-something single woman who just found out she’s a witch. I’m what they call a late-bloomer. It’s inconvenient. And I just found out that the cat I thought was a pet is actually a familiar and that he’s been rootling around in my head since he came to live with me. He knew about me. Turnabout is fair play, wouldn’t you say?]

“You are not going to put me in one of your stories, are you?”

“I’ll be honest, I don’t know. Maybe. But no one would recognize you anyway so what are you worried about?”

My cat heaved a sigh. “I know you well enough to know you will not stop asking. Refill my water dish and I will tell you something of my life.”

I grinned. As I performed the duty asked of me, I said, “Start at the beginning. First, how old are you, anyway?”

“I am not as old as some familiars but quite a bit older than many. In the way you humans count years, I am two thousand, two hundred fifty-three years old and have been a familiar to eight magical beings before you.

“To understand my story, you need to have a basic understanding of familiars. Someone should have told you all this already but …

“We are essentially present to help boost our human’s power, although we also act as guardian and a repository for information. Familiar magic includes the ability to retain youthfulness in the body so we are able to stay with our human throughout their lifetime. There are exceptions, of course. A fatal blow such as a direct strike to the heart, lopping off the head, and the like will terminate the body. Should a witch or wizard allow that to happen, we do not return to them. They are charged with our safety, just as we are charged with theirs.

“When the witch or wizard dies, whether of natural causes or not, so does our corporeal body. Our spirit is then assigned to a different body by our ruling council. We always incarnate in a species appropriate as a companion for the magical person we are assigned to.”

“How is a familiar made?” I interjected.

“We have not yet discovered the answer to that question. The Universe, in its infinite wisdom, decides when a spirit will be a familiar and when it will not. The oldest of our kind and head of our council instinctively knows when a new spirit comes into being and adds it to the rolls kept by the Familiar Council.

“I will try to use terminology you are familiar with but stop me if you do not understand something. I would prefer not to repeat myself.”

“Before you continue, I have another question. I assume you didn’t always live in the United States, so how many languages do you speak?”

“Languages? Those are human terms. I know you think I am mind-speaking English but that is just how your brain interprets my thoughts. If a species is capable of mind-speech, we exchange thoughts. It is as simple as that. May I continue?”

I poured myself a glass of wine, curled up in my chair and gave Fudge my full attention.

“I was born in the country you call Egypt in your year 252 BCE. My human was male. We were together for approximately two hundred fifty of your years. I then was assigned…”

I interrupted. “You sound like my college marketing professor and he put me to sleep. I don’t want a five-minute rote recitation of your life. I want to know about your humans, what you experienced with them, maybe even what really happened during some momentous times. Tell me a story!”

My cat sighed. “Very well…”

 

To be continued…